Computer Science: the Perfect Storm

Ed Lazowska

I'd like to encourage some speculation about one of the world's great incongruities.

Computer Science is a great field. It's supremely creative. It's changing our lives, driving our economy, and transforming the conduct of science, engineering, and many other fields. It's projected to be the source of 70% of the jobs in all fields of science and engineering between now and 2012. It's open to everyone.

At the same time, Computer Science seems to be facing a "perfect storm." Undergraduate demand is down. (Recently, to add insult to injury, the NCAA announced that student-athletes entering college after July 2005 may not use any Computer Science courses in meeting the core-course requirements for eligibility!) Graduate demand is down. Research proposal success rates -- and even the absolute level of funding in some agencies -- are down. Diversity -- well, it may not be down, but it's been lousy for several decades, and despite extraordinary efforts it's showing no signs of getting better. Then there's the Larry Summers imbroglio: it stunned me that virtually every news organization except the New York Times totally missed the point.

So tell me: What's going on?

Why do high school kids -- men and women -- not choose this field?

Why do college kids -- men and women -- not enter graduate programs?

Why are funding agencies such as DARPA and NASA abandoning information technology at a time when the opportunities have never been greater?

Why do people not understand that each of us carries with us latent biases that must be acknowledged and managed?

And, most importantly, what can each of us -- individually and collectively -- do about this?



Ed Lazowska is the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington. He can be reached at >lazowska@cs.washington.edu